I discovered this fossilised seashell, whilst hunting for fossils on the beach at Charmouth. The beach is part of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset – a UNESCO World Heritage site – and is famous for the fossils which one can find there.
The fossil itself is small but rather beautiful. Its shape is clearly delineated and one can even see the different shades of grey on what was once its shell. Its shape is utterly familiar and yet it comes from a time beyond our wildest imaginations.
This shell, this familiar pattern of lines, is around 195 million years old. It was extant in this form throughout the time of the dinosaurs. It ‘witnessed’ their demise and the emergence of man millions of years later. It has ‘seen’ man evolve from the earliest ancestors to the first modern homo-sapiens.
On the way down to Dorset, we stopped off at Stonehenge and marvelled at the stones whose exact purpose still remains a mystery. What I find most incredible is their age, somewhere in the region of 4,500 years old. To think what has happened in the intervening years is incredible, yet its age pales into insignificance when one considers that the small piece of shell-shaped rock above is over 40,000 times its age.
But what is interesting is that whereas the stones of Stonehenge are ‘unfamiliar’ (not of course in the sense of not having seen them before but rather as everyday objects), the seashell is part of the everyday world today – at least that of the seaside (in fact I found one like it on the beach in Lyme Regis just a few miles away). In this sense, it becomes easier almost, to bridge the gap between now and a time 195 million years ago, than it does to that of the Neolithic.
But in discovering the fossil, I found myself beginning to contrast the moment I broke open the rock to reveal it, with all the moments that have filled the 195,000,000 years since the shell fell to the sea floor. Moments when dinosaurs walked the Earth; moments when the world changed shape to make the countries and continents with which we are familiar. Moments when the dinosaurs became extinct, when mankind emerged to become what we are today; when the ice age came and passed… etc.